Blog de RoverDaddy

Incoherent ramblings interspersed with gratuitous commercialism. May occasionally descend into self-absorbed reflections or paternalistic lecturing. Use only as directed. If symptoms persist for more than ten days consult a physican.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Java Hut (Yee Haw!) *

It's time to push the envelope, leverage core competencies, think outside the box...

Last night I talked my friend into a trip to Worcester to a local coffee house called The Java Hut Cafe. The evening's scheduled entertainment was the Jay Tyer Jazz Ensemble, and at least I know I like Jazz. Neither of us had ever been there before, so this was an off-the-cuff, no idea what we're getting into kind of jaunt, but in fact the scene we met was very much what I envisioned.

It turns out that Java Hut is on Webster Square, very close to Clark University, so it's primarily a college scene.

The number of sterotypes/cliches was just amazing. Thirty or forty years ago I'm sure a smoky haze (of uncertain origin) would have filled the room.

Of course here in 2006 it's a WiFi hotspot, so several students were sitting at tables with their laptops blazing away (it looked like one guy near us was intently studing art). Hey, why actually talk to your pal across the table when you can post something witty on their Myspace page?

One member of the laptop crowd fit right in with his black turtleneck, soul patch, and red streak dyed through the shock of black hair atop his head.

The long wall of the cafe (opposite the bar) was festooned with various paintings and other forms of the afore mentioned Art, most abstract but some leaning more toward impressionist. Presumably they were for sale but I didn't get close enough to see prices. My favorite of the bunch was the largest piece (something like 4 ft. by 5 ft.) which was entitled "Man devouring himself over the image of his woman". We agreed that we could see some figures in the painting (with effort), but he actually said there were three. Who knows? Probably not even the artist :)

The venue was socially conscious and quite eco-friendly. Collection jars from a number of worthwhile social service charities sat on the bar. One whiteboard proudly announced the availability of Chemical Free Decaf. The chili my friend got was vegetarian of course (actually their menu included plenty of meaty dishes for the unwashed carnivores among us). My friend blew our cover as 'professors of comparative studies' by trying to order a Coke, forcing our waitress/barista to explain that they don't carry mainstream soft drinks, but he could have a Stewart's. He opted for Snapple.

Speaking of our waitress, she was a delightful, competent blonde, handling even us older folk with good humor. Oh, I forgot to mention the dreadlocks sprouting from a knit tan wrap of sorts on top of her head.

Several signs behind the bar were enthusiastically hand-decorated. My favorite of these was for what must be a signature beverage, something like a "Psycho Jolt" (not really), made with 8 shots of espresso, and measuring "32 horrifying ounces" in total. The sign included an appropriate legal disclaimer.

The rear of the cafe sported two rest rooms, not labeled in anyway, inviting their use by patrons of either gender (seems very sensible to me). In between the two, a decrepit old cigarette machine acted as a display shelf for free local 'scene' papers. Actually, the whole machine was "repurposed" as a poetry vending machine, but I think it was really for show, since one area of the machine read "Not responsible for anybody losing quarters in this machine".

Really, although most of the patrons were college age, there was a wide range of people represented. Behind us near the back, four or five teenagers were planted on an old couch (since there is no alcohol at all everybody is welcome). The couches had us expecting Phoebe or Rachel to drop in at any minute (sadly no). The two of us were probably somewhere at the other end of the bell curve (age wise). Actually, a couple members of the band may have been older than us.

The music itself was really great, although the band seemed to go on break quite early (and we left before they started up again). One oddity that is probably common to Jazz Ensembles, was that the vocalist seemed to have very little to do, contributing here and there to the audio experience, but otherwise enhancing the performance simply by listening intently and swaying to the beat.

If my snide descriptions sound like I had a bad time, you're wrong. It was really great fun. I'm thinking of going again someday, even despite the fact that we had to wonder how many people there thought we were a gay couple. Besides Jazz and other musical genres, Java Hut hosts open mike poetry nights. If they don't have bongos I'll be very disappointed.

* My friends who have heard the Waitiki album Charred Mammal Flesh should recognize the reference to Mr. Ho's Yummy Hut Yee Haw, one of the more spirited tracks on that awesome album. Like Java Hut, Yummy Hut is a real place (in Somerville, MA) Can you say Road Trip?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Embarassment averted

Yesterday, I was trying to tell my friends about all the celebrities who share my birthday. I remembered Dudley Moore but forgot Tim Curry, really didn't want to think about Hayden Christensen, but also included Charlize Theron. Unfortunately, Charlize's birthday is not April 19! I was confusing her with Ashley Judd, as I am sometimes wont to do, even though they probably have little in common besides being two breathtakingly beautiful actresses. Imagine the embarassing faux pas if I rang up Charlize and tried to impress her with a 'hey we have something in common' line. Whew.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The best holiday of the year

Even though the holiday has been moved to the third Monday of April since 1969, real patriots know that Patriot's Day is properly celebrated on April 19, no matter what day of the week it may fall upon. I am especially partial to this holiday because it happens to be my birthday. It was wonderful growing up in Massachusetts because I never had school on my birthday, since the week is always Spring vacation.

This year I celebrated in style. I took the day off and went with my friends to Six Flags New England, the largest (well, practically the only) amusement park in Massachusetts. This was my first time there, even though it has been around for many many years, formerly known as Riverside. The most exciting part of the day, was finally, after all these years, taking my first ride on a modern, high-tech computer designed, tubular steel, loop-de-loop - corkscrewing - lose your lunch if you're not careful roller coaster, Batman: The Dark Knight. I can officially say, "That was totally wicked!" Due to excessive lines and a 'cautious' desire to tread lightly into the world of modern coasters, that was the only one I hit on this trip. However, this coaster will definitely be on my 'must ride' list the next time I return.

Amazingly enough, the very same day I went to Six Flags in the morning, I took my kids in the afternoon to one of those small traveling carnivals that makes the rounds from town to town (of course Spring vacation is a hot week for these!) I don't recall the name of this particular amusement company but it's not really important. Suffice it to say, they filled a local baseball field with rickety old rides (hey the kids love them), a few concessions, and the obligatory line of hard-sell games of skill. The real shocker, is that in just one hour, between the rides, games, and just a couple sno-kones, I spent almost as much money there as I spent for a Season Pass to Six Flags. Hey, carnies, I'm sorry but I really hate you. Well, don't take it personally, it's not you, it's your job. Next time, just stay out of my face :)

Monday, April 17, 2006

26.2 miles give or take 23 or so

Today at 12 noon I was someplace I never expected to be: at the side of the road just a few hundred yards from the starting line of the Boston Marathon, watching and cheering as the 'elite' runners lead a horde of thousands on the grueling trek from Hopkinton to downtown Boston. My department manager invited me along as he transported some of our co-workers who were planning to run the race. One of the three was an official runner with a number and an RFID tag to track his progress: the other two were 'bandits' just jumping into the crowd to make the run for themselves.

We stayed at the side of the road long enough to see practically all the runners. They set off in two groups of almost 12,000 each. Since our 'official' runner had a very high number (nearly 20,000), we had to wait through most of the pack for his turn to sprint by our viewing spot. In the meantime we saw just about every kind of person, group, costume etc. imaginable as thousands and thousands of excited people ran by (plenty of energy at this point just yards past the starting line).

We had a much easier job of getting to the starting line than most spectators. With the help of some local employees who know the lay of the land, we were able to take back roads (back road as in dirt, not pavement) to bypass one of the roadblocks on a main route to the start. Then, reaching a second roadblock, we had another ace in the hole: the name and address of another employee living in a small neighborhood just beyond the roadblock. Under the pretext of 'just visiting' this person, we talked our way past the 2nd roadblock and entered that neighborhood, only to circle through it and drive as close to the starting line as possible. We estimated that our parking spot was only about 1.5 miles from the start. So that gives my total distance for the day at about 3 miles, just a bit shorter than the distance taken by the marathon runners.

Oh yes, our friends (official runners and otherwise) all completed the course in the ballpark of 3 hours, 35 minutes. Hooray for people in better shape than I!

Stay tuned for even more chewy back-dated posting goodness, as I continue to relate the trivialities of my life whenever I finally manage the time to sit down and actually write something. Up next, the real Patriot's Day and why the traveling carnival that comes to town is not your friend.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

How I Spent Tax Day

Ok, so this April 15 isn't really Tax Day because it's a Saturday. In fact, as often happens, Tax Day falls one day later in Massachusetts than the rest of the country this year, because the next regular business day, April 17, is also a state holiday (Patriot's Day). I may have more to say about that later.

This morning I walked with my friend and his kids in a 5K walkathon for the Blackstone Valley Youth Leadership Academy. The group raised money for several local charities researched and selected by the students themselves. Now, considering that 5K is just a bit over three miles, and I've developed a routine of walking about that distance each and every day for the past six weeks, it wasn't much of a stretch for me. Of course I felt obligated to impart such nuggets of wisdom as "Oh you have it so easy! Back in my day we had 20 mile walkathons, in blinding snow, up hill all the way!" Isn't that what uncles are for?

The walkathon started at Blackstone Gorge, and crossed the state line into Woonsocket, Rhode Island. I've never been to downtown Woonsocket before. It's a stereotypical New England mill town where the whole structure of the downtown area is dictated by the twists and turns of the river that powered the old mills. The streets are narrow and windy and numerous bridges join neighborhoods over the ever-present river.

To add a dash of education to the day's events, the walkathon organizers arranged several stops along the way. The most interesting of these was the Stadium Theatre, a National Historic Register site being restored to 'vintage 1926' conditions by a group of dedicated, enthusiastic people. They have accomplished quite a bit already with a lot of money and a lot of hard work, and there's still more to go. It's a really beautiful building, and they're working hard to restore it as much as possible to it's original state, subject to modern regulations for fire safety, handicapped access, etc. Next week, April 20 and 21, the theatre is hosting the 2006 Miss Rhode Island Pageant. Sounds like old mill towns still have some life in them yet.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Make a wish!

Yesterday, Palm Sunday, I attended mass at a church I've never been to before, St. Patrick's Church in Whitinsville, MA. I had a few churches to choose from in the immediate area, but it turned out that this one must have been the right one for me at the time. The service was really moving. On Palm Sunday the Catholic mass always includes a lengthy reading from one of the Gospels recounting Christ's Passion. Sometimes this is a deadly boring affair as you stand there, missal in hand, for what seems like forever, following along with the story and reading out the 'Crowd' parts in that deadpan delivery I think all Catholics master by 5th grade.

This time, however, the priest asked us to sit down, close the books and just watch and listen. As the priest and a couple lectors read the story, a troupe of about 15 people acted out the scenes of the Passion as a series of short pantomime vignettes. The man playing Jesus was dressed in all white. Everybody else was dressed in black. Most of the other roles were played by young women except for things like Judas, Pilate and the Pharisees. The only major prop was an enormous red drape, that was used in different scenes to represent things like Christ being dragged around by the soldiers, the cross, and the tomb. As I related in my last entry regarding Jesus Christ Superstar, the Passion story means a lot to me and this particular experience of it was really wonderful.

Ok, so what's with the title of this entry, "Make a wish"? Well, that's because I was reminded of something in a completely different direction as I sat through mass on Sunday. Some of the friends I made a while ago in a Catholic young adult group would often say, that any time you visit a new church for the first time, you get to make a wish! Not exactly Roman Catholic dogma, but it's a nice thought. Especially right now when I can think of a few things to fervently wish (and pray) for.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Could we start again please?

Mood: Reflective
What I'm Listening To: Jesus Christ Superstar - Soundtrack

This morning I revived an annual personal tradition relating to the time before and during Holy Week. As my own special way to reflect on the meaning of this time and Christ's profound sacrifice for all of us, I watch or listen to Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Jesus Christ Superstar. This year I don't have the video handy but I'm listening to the soundtrack on my commute.

Despite the elements of fiction and creative license, this account of the Passion of Christ has enormous meaning for me. It started many years ago in high school. My favorite teacher throughout my high school years was Father Richard Wolf, S.J. (Society of Jesus - the Jesuits). Father Wolf, who's nickname was Father Fox for reasons that were never really clear to me, was one of the religious ed. teachers at Bishop Connolly High School during my days there. However, he had a sort of tradition of his own. Every year during Holy Week, he would put away the text books and lecture notes for all of his classes, and sign out a cart from the A.V. department. For four days in a row, the 40 minute period in his classroom was devoted to listening to the soundtrack of Jesus Christ Superstar, off a well-worn LP, through a cheap old phonograph with ratty speakers. This was just a little bit too early for VHS copies of older movies to be readily available, so we had to settle for the vinyl. Fr. Wolf would prep us with a discussion of the characters from the musical and they way they were portrayed (as opposed to the biblical presentation), and we also had handouts: a hand-written libretto of the musical copied over in the distinctive blue print of an old-fashioned mimeograph machine.

Why is this musical so powerful for me? It's the character studies, not just Jesus, but also Judas, Mary Magdeline and Pilate who are fleshed out in a fascinating fashion. Whether or not the interpretations of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber really jive with the Gospel truth, it is a captivating story. And in fact, I don't think they really stray too far from the things I believe when they represent Jesus. The humanity of Christ is exposed by the story, and it is real and personal. I am especially moved by Christ's 'righteous anger' when he destroys the money changers' tables at the Temple, and His despair when realizing the destiny the Father has laid out for Him. I could go on for pages describing what the musical means to me, but it seems my words right now are not really up to the task. I'll just say that listening to the soundtrack each year at this time is as meaningful to me as attending Holy Week services.

Unfortunately, two of the numbers from the movie version are missing from the soundtrack: "Then We Are Decided" and the title of my entry, "Could We Start Again Please?".

Father Wolf died of complications from cancer just a few years after I left high school. So, when I return to the musical year after year, I think of this as a remembrance of him as well.